Perhaps it is fitting that I spend my retirement years working, part-time, for the little weekly newspaper where my career in journalism started as a part time, after school, reporter 43 years ago.
As I sit on my mountaintop writing this, I realize that I am less than 50 miles, as the crow flies, from my first full time newspaper job as a reporter for The Roanoke Times. that gig lasted four years before I headed West for 11 years and then back East to Washington in 1981.
In Roanoke, I thought I would work for newspapers for the rest of my life. It was all I ever really wanted to do. And, even in retirement, I’m still toiling away, writing for a newspaper, even though I also own the Internet’s oldest political news web site and various other enterprises that are part of the so-called “new media.”
And for many who considered a newspaper job the center of their universe, the dream is over.
Writes Denis Grollmus in Cleveland Scene:
On an August day, Dave Wilson was standing in his kitchen, preparing himself for the end, when his wife nodded to his Knight Ridder coffee mug. “You don’t want to drink from that,” she said.
I sure as hell don’t, Wilson thought.
He’d given 18 years to that damn company, a decade of which he’d spent as a reporter and editor for the Akron Beacon Journal. He snatched up the mug and headed to a co-worker’s house, where Beacon employees were mourning the end of an era. Knight Ridder, once one of America’s largest newspaper chains, with papers from Philadelphia to San Jose, was officially dead.
“Anyone got a golf club?” Wilson asked when he arrived. Someone slipped him a monster-sized driver. He placed the mug on a tee, then hammered it into a cloud of ceramic shards. “It was like saying adios to that whole scenario,” he says.
Once upon a time that stupid little cup had meant something special — something that fought to better people’s lives, earned Pulitzers for doing so, and allowed Wilson to be a proud provider. Now, on this crappy August day, it stood for something ugly — something full of defeat, anxiety, and loss.
Denise’s sad tale tells the whole sordid story of the demise not only of the mighty Akron Beacon-Journal but also of the Knight-Ridder newspaper empire. It is a scene sadly repeated in newsrooms around the country and newspaper fall victim to the “bottom line is everything” mentality.
I still have a Roanoke Times & World News coffee cup somewhere in my collection. It comes from a time when a family owned the paper instead of a profit-centric newspaper chain. I was also fortunate enough to work 11 years for The Alton Telegraph when brave family owners put news ahead of the bottom line. I also have coffee cups from The Associated Press when it was a better news service and United Press International long before it became a victim of cost-cutting and agenda-driven owners.
Unlike Dave Wilson, I won’t send those cups into oblivion with a golf club. Each stands for a pleasant memory from a time when being a reporter meant being part of something special. I’m glad I was no longer part of any of my former employers when they forgot what it meant to be journalists.